Wednesday , Nov , 08 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Lakers look like they’re going to be better than expected

I know the Los Angeles Lakers just lost their first game of the season to the Seattle Supersonics 117-101 after getting off to a 3-0 start, but I am here to warn every western conference opponent that the Lakers could actually be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time this season.

Lakers look like they're going to be better than expected

   Yes, it’s still quite early, and I don’t want to get carried away after just a handful of games, but if the young Lakers, who were a one-man show for the majority of the year last season, can, not only qualify for last year’s playoffs, but give the talented Phoenix Suns quite a series before bowing out in the first round, how good can they be with a few actual real players this year?

 The answer? Very good – I think.

   Of course the Lakers have arguably the best player on the planet in Kobe Bryant and one who is totally unstoppable at times, particularly late in games with the contest still in the balance, but I believe the additions of veterans of Vladimir Radmanovic and Maurice Evans, not to mention the continued growth of forwards, Luke Walton and Ronny Turiaf and now, young center, Andrew Bynum, makes the Lakers legitimate contenders for a berth in the western conference finals.

   However, I also believe that the Lakers’ chances this season will also depend heavily upon the performance of one player in particular – Lamar Odom.

 If Odom can truly play the role of Scottie Pippen to Bryant’s Michael Jordan in head coach, Phil Jackson’s vaunted triangle offense, then the Lakers could give opponents fits this season.

 “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” assistant coach, Kurt Rambis said last week. “If we can get them to understand their potential and their ability to work together, I think we’re going to have a really good ball club.”

   Even the young Turiaf, who had open-heart surgery last season, knows that the Lakers could be something special in the near future.

   “I’m thankful for the opportunity I have,” Turiaf, said. “I’m just trying to have some fun, and I have really great teammates. We’re a young team, and it’s fun when young guys get an opportunity to showcase their skills.”

   Walton, the son of the almost legendary Bill Walton seems to realize that something special could be happening in Los Angeles and even downplayed his performance in posting a career-high 20 points in one game last week.

“Having Kobe back, watching Ronny (Turiaf) come up big in the end, that was awesome. That was a lot more fun for me than having a career high in points, ”Walton said.

   Even Bryant, who was known to be a selfish player early in his career is learning to appreciate his young teammates and seems to be taking the role of team leader very seriously these days.

   “The guys worked extremely hard in the offseason,” Bryant said. “To step up when we needed them at the beginning of the season is great.”

   Once again, I realize that it’s extremely early in the season and that the Lakers have a long way to go, but something tells me that this team is going to be a legitimate threat come playoff time. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be fun watching this team grow up.

   I also want to add that, in retrospect, the Lakers and their owner, Dr. Jerry Buss may have made the correct call in keeping Bryant and trading Shaquille O’Neal a couple of seasons ago.

 Sure Shaq got his ring without Bryant (but with Dwayne Wade) last season, but in the long run, it looks like the Lakers could actually be a better team than the Heat in another season or two. Once again though, we shall see.

   Eric Williams is a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and nationally syndicated freelance writer who can be heard every Wednesday at 3:15 eastern on Contact Eric at [email protected]